When I was at Nordstrom, I can remember the moment when I stopped thinking of Macy’s as a competitor. We had outclassed them as a retailer, with much higher sales per sq ft, a better online and customer experience, and superior integration to the stores. We were selective about where we wanted to do business, and how we wanted to do it. Macy’s was this sprawling mediocre empire of too many middling stores, often run-down and just beat, with terrible customer service and unimpressive sales staff. Nordstrom had its eye on better competition, in specific categories like specialty cosmetics and women’s wear to work, and of course Amazon.
Amazon’s first effort at higher end fashion was a direct copy of the LAF of the Nordstrom store site. And let’s not forget that their initial break with Nordstrom was their purchase of Zappos, a very pointed direct threat. Forget Macy’s, they no longer mattered to us in the new world. We spoke of Amazon as a threat and a peer.
It was clear that Amazon had been studying us, learning and imitating us. If they were to beat us, we wondered if Amazon wouldn’t just acquire Nordstrom like they did Whole Foods, because we would be a great prize and asset to them.
I doubt that anyone at Amazon thinks this any more, regards Nordstrom as any kind of competitive peer, or sees it as an asset worth acquiring. They instead see the overhead and accelerated failure of the brick-and-mortar retail model, validating their direct logistical partnership approach with fashion labels. They no longer take Nordstrom seriously because it is hardly a threat to them.
Nordstrom is operating like a dotcom, unprofitable, thinking in term of cash burn and keeping all options open, even extreme measures. Nordstrom has been removed from the S&P 500, meaning they are no longer considered a first-tier retailer in the US, and losing the support of such status directly and indirectly such as through index funds and the SPY ETF.
Amazon passed on Barneys, and JCP, and Lord & Taylor, and Macy’s, and whatever’s left of Saks and Needless Markup and I Magnin and the rest. Why would Nordstrom ever expect anything but the same indifference as they wind down? Why should we feel any different? It’s a shame to lose a grand old retailer, a good company, sure, but it’s hardly the end of the world. Who but the employees cried over Stein Mart?
Nordstrom has lost its special status and is just another corporation to us. Seattle could not even protect its flagship store from being violated by looters, just like Chicago could not do the same for the Macy’s that was once Marshall Field’s. Nordstrom is a nice-to-have, but the world will go on just fine without it.
And this prestige is lost from all levels of the business. If there is to be a bankruptcy filing and a fundamental restructuring of the company, if this actually happens, the perks and niceties of the new company go right out the window. Would they need a CTO? Principal engineers and other overbaked titles? Senior staff everything. Or instead a radically simplified, functionally designed, flat as heck organization?
You can’t really think of yourselves as special any more. The company is just schlepping along trying to survive like the rest of us. And to promote yourselves now, to market high-end designer anything in such a difficult time, feels perverse. How many of you have visited Nieman Marcus lately to see all the inane, stupid high-end SKUs offered for sale there? How sick and insulting, and much of what Nordstrom has is only a notch or two below their mo–nic merch.
You are not a special snowflake. No downtown tech campus for you. I’m sure this is starting to settle in now, but it’s still early and has a long way to go. First let’s see what is in store for Q3/Q4.